Ted Cruz’s immigration reversal

Updated 2:24 PM EST, Wed January 6, 2016
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Story highlights

Cruz has pushed to expand legal immigration in the Senate

Senator is taking a hardline on immigration on the campaign trail

Cruz spokesperson: 'It's completely dishonest to suggest that Sen. Cruz is not a staunch proponent of securing the border'

(CNN) —  

On the campaign trail, Ted Cruz says he’s the “consistent conservative” – the one candidate who always sticks to his principles.

But on immigration, that’s an open question.

The Texas senator has long been a fierce proponent of expanding legal immigration and visas for high-skilled workers, so much so that he repeatedly broke with immigration hardliners like Sen. Jeff Sessions during Senate Judiciary Committee proceedings in 2013. Now, Cruz is advocating a tough approach that would impose a temporary halt on legal immigration – a significant reversal for a senator who espoused more moderate positions on immigration in Congress than on the campaign trail.

While much of the recent scrutiny on Cruz’s immigration record has been on whether he backs legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, there is no doubt that Cruz was a staunch advocate of opening U.S. borders for those entering into the United States through the proper legal channels. He fought to allow more legal immigrants into the United States during the Senate’s most consequential immigration debate since George W. Bush’s presidency.

A deeper look at Cruz’s record – particularly during the divisive 2013 immigration debate – showcases how the junior senator from Texas was seeking to promote a view of immigration that could appeal to constituents in a border state transformed by an influx of migrants. A review of nearly 1,000 pages of transcripts from the five days of committee votes shows how the Texas firebrand took a nuanced view – repeatedly saying he wanted the bill to pass with several changes, especially expanded legal immigration.

“I don’t want this bill to be voted down and I hope the stakeholders who want this bill to be passed will be interested in amendments to craft a bill that will pass,” Cruz said. “And I look forward to working with the committee members in that process.”

READ: Trump raises Cruz’s eligibility to run for president

Cruz ultimately opposed the so-called Gang of Eight bill, which was co-authored by his chief presidential rival, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and would have been the most expansive rewrite of immigration laws in nearly three decades. He now says he wouldn’t give permanent legal status to any of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and touts his role in leading the fight in the Senate Judiciary Committee to kill the bill.

But a CNN review of the committee transcripts shows that not once did he use the word “amnesty” in describing illegal immigration during the five days of lengthy deliberations, a common mantra for Cruz on the campaign trail today. And he sought to both double the cap of legal immigration from 675,000 to 1.3 million and pushed for a dramatic increase of 500% for high-skilled H-1B visas to 325,000.

When Sessions, the Alabama Republican, sought to issue stringent new caps on visas issued to foreigners from across the globe, Cruz pushed back.

“I intend to vote no on this amendment, and the reason is I think legal immigration is a fundamental pillar of our country,” Cruz said at the committee debate. “And I think, as a nation, we need to remain a nation that doesn’t just welcome, but that celebrates legal immigrants around this table.”

Speaking to reporters here in Cedar Rapids Tuesday, Rubio seized on Cruz’s past positions to paint him as a flip-flopper on an issue that riles up the conservative base.

“I understand now he has changed his position,” Rubio said. “He has a right to change his position, it’s a different position.”

Rubi